Apr 15

The process of filing annual income taxes is overwhelming enough without having to worry about costly tax preparation fees and frequently changing IRS guidelines. If denial and procrastination are your coping mechanisms of choice, please be aware that filing taxes late or not at all can be far more expensive than getting help to complete your return on time. The 2010 tax deadline is rapidly approaching, and there are several free options to make filing on your own – or finding free, knowledgeable tax preparation assistance – as painless as possible.

Find Person-to-Person Help

The IRS has teamed up with nonprofit and community organizations at more than 12,000 locations throughout the nation to offer free tax preparation services. Those most likely to benefit from these government-partnered services include tax filers who fall within low to middle income brackets, and elderly taxpayers. Here are some volunteer programs that run until April 18, 2011 (depending on location; some may close earlier) that provide free tax filing assistance:

  • Individuals Who Have an AGI of $49K or Less: The most common volunteer program used by individuals who have an AGI of $49,000 or less (or are unable prepare their taxes on their own) is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. The individuals working at VITA locations are IRS-certified volunteers who have been trained to prepare basic tax returns. To find one of the many locations where this program is offered call 800-906-9887.
  • Individuals 60 or Older: The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program offers free help for individuals age 60 or older who have basic tax returns. Like VITA, TCE offers in-person assistance in communities across the U.S. The AARP has the largest IRS-sponsored TCE program. They have over 6,000 located around the country. You can find the locations by using the Tax-Aide Locator or by calling 888-227-7669.
  • Military and Military Families: The military has a large VITA program, with the Armed Forces Tax Council (AFTC) overseeing the military tax programs worldwide. The AFTC coordinates with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army and U.S. Navy. These VITA programs utilize volunteers trained to understand military-specific tax issues to help military members and their families, and are typically located within military installations.

Keep in mind that since scams increase during tax season, it is very important for you to confirm that you are working with a legitimate program. The IRS provides information about these and other income tax filing assistance programs on their website, www.IRS.gov.

Do-it-Yourself Tax Preparation

  • Individuals With an AGI of $58K or Less: The IRS has partnered with many well-known tax software companies that offer free federal filings to individuals who meet their basic qualifications. In order to qualify, your AGI must be no greater than $58K and you cannot itemize your deductions. To find the best tax software program for you, visit the IRS-operated Free File site to get all of the information needed for you to begin the tax filing process.
  • Individuals With an AGI of $58K+: If you have an AGI over $58K and/or plan to itemize your deductions, your options for free tax filing are limited. If you are knowledgeable about filing taxes then you can use the free fillable forms available on the IRS website. These forms are only slightly easier than preparing by hand because they do perform some basic math functions for you. If you do not have a strong understanding of filing tax returns, then this is probably not a good option for you.

Contact the IRS Directly

The IRS will help taxpayers who have frequently asked questions on both on their website and via telephone. To order forms, instructions or publications, go to www.IRS.gov or call 800-829-3676. When visiting the website, be sure to type in IRS.gov, not .com, .net or .org, as any website that has an address ending in anything other than .gov is not a legitimate government site.

For questions regarding taxes, individuals may phone 800-829-1040 and businesses may call 800-829-4933.

Importance of Filing On Time

It is very important for all wage earners who are required to file income tax returns do so by the April 18, 2011 deadline in order to avoid losing their refund, incurring possible failure-to-file penalties and being charged with other unnecessary interest and fees. With all of the resources offered by the IRS and partnering community groups, even those taxpayers with limited financial resources have the means and opportunity to get help filing their tax returns. Take advantage of these offers to ensure that you are not paying more in fees and penalties than you would have paid for tax preparation.

This guest post was provided by Matt Robinson, a tax professional and tax writer who provides valuable tax tips, news, guidance and more on his tax blog. His website also gives detailed do-it-yourself information on resolving various IRS problems.

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